Tim Downey, a former Ventura planning commissioner who led a successful campaign last November to build a desalination plant in the city, has died of heart problems. He was 44.
Downey died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles late Sunday, said his wife, Mary Day. He was suffering from an infection around a valve in his heart, and recently had surgery to replace the valve, she said.
“It was not caused by stress,” Day said. “It was a physical problem that couldn’t be mended.”
She added: “It’s a shock. I expected him to be around for the rest of my life. He loved people, and he loved Ventura.”
Downey last fall headed a successful grass-roots drive to build a desalination plant. After a hard-fought November battle between state water and desalination interests, Ventura residents voted 55% to 45% for an advisory measure in favor of desalination over importing water from Northern California.
“He was incredibly special and warm,” said Steve Bennett, a Nordhoff High School teacher who worked with Downey on the campaign. “He was in touch with the common man.”
In a series of public debates, Downey challenged state water officials and sought publicity for the campaign. His group, Desal Water, called residents at home and sent mailings to voters about desalination. He also gave the campaign a personal loan of about $7,000.
Downey was president of VenVirotek, a Ventura company that specializes in recycling oil-field wastes. The Ventura native served on the Planning Commission for four years, and decided not to seek reappointment when his term expired in June, partly for health reasons.
Downey had an enlarged heart and a history of health problems, family and hospital officials said. His health deteriorated after he collapsed during a Planning Commission meeting in February, his wife said.
Until his collapse, Downey was widely viewed as a top contender for the Ventura City Council race in November. Friends and associates called him a leader who appealed to both business interests and environmental groups.
“Losing someone like that is a real blow,” said Councilman Tom Buford, who knew Downey for more than 30 years. “He was smart, he knew how to look at an issue and he could take a tough stand.”
Guy Wysinger, president of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and a longtime acquaintance of Downey, described him as “very sensitive to business, but concerned about the environment.”
He is survived by his wife; sons Charles and Jack Day, of Ventura; daughters Sara Carnes of Burbank and Shannon Downey of Ventura; his mother, Madelaine Downey of Oxnard; his sister and brother in-law Cathy and Larry Zavolosieck of Ventura; and sister-in-law Sally Elliott of Oklahoma.
A memorial service has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Ted Mayr Funeral Home in Ventura.